You Don’t Have to Check Your Brains at the Door
One of modern Judaism’s primary challenges is the lack of educated Jews. TheTorah.com plays a vital role in addressing this issue and making substantial strides toward a solution.
The influence of TheTorah.com has become so pervasive and significant that it is difficult to imagine that the project is only ten years old. The concept it embodies is crucially important: to show what critical and historical biblical scholarship, attuned to traditional sources and culture, can contribute. Time and time again, TheTorah.com demonstrates that critical and historical study of the Bible can enhance our capacity to really “hear” what the Bible seeks to communicate.
For those of us who value our Jewish tradition, and who do not believe that checking your brain or knowledge at the door is what Judaism demands of us, the work of TheTorah.com has been a rich source and an inspiring enterprise. It is the best available resource where well-grounded scholars communicate not only with other scholars but with the general public of non-scholars and all interested students of the Bible.
TheTorah.com presents a distillation of complex scholarly work, now shared, as all good scholarship should, with all those interested in understanding what the Bible contributes. The quality of the writing, and the effective, colorful presentation that takes advantage of new technologies, communicate knowledge very much in a 21st-century mode.
The Bible, as we all know, is a highly contested subject. As a source of much conflict for millennia, it requires a special vision to create modern, respectful dialogue. It takes special courage to nurture such a dialogue publicly. Even as it unites us – Jews as well as Christians – the Bible continues to divide its interpreters, since its interpretation is so often very contested. In an era of intellectual, religious and political silos, the TheTorah.com offers the best and clearest opportunity to see how differences can be negotiated meaningfully.
My mentor, the very Orthodox Rabbi Shmuel Miller, z”l, once responded to a congregant who considered women rabbis a problem, by stating: “The problem for Judaism is not whether we do or do not have women rabbis. The main problem is that we don’t have enough educated Jews.” The lively format and well-researched essays of TheTorah.com go a long way towards remedying the situation by educating Jews.
With Shavuot in view, there can be no doubt that TheTorah.com is one of the finest ways to engage with the Torah from Sinai even when questioning what Torah at Sinai might have been. The site bridges the gap between critical and historical scholarship and faith without comprising the integrity of either.
Take for example the symposium, “Torah from Sinai: Tradition vs. Academia.” This topic is particularly important given trends in scholarship today in which this gap has been growing and has become more complicated. In many current circles, the conflict is not only between scholarship and faith as traditionally understood, namely religious faith, but between allegiance to particular ideologies as faith, including identity politics, on one hand, and scholarship as it has been practiced in the halls of the academe on the other.
TheTorah.com has much to contribute to addressing such tensions as it continues to show, both by example and through its symposia and essays, how Jewish traditions may partner successfully with critical scholarship. Take for example Zev Farber’s essay “Avraham Avinu is my Father: Thoughts on Torah, History and Judaism,” where he not only posed challenging questions for thoughtful modern readers, but also responded to them persuasively, in a way that is likely to help others with their faith and scholarship challenges.
At this tenth anniversary, I would like to cheer the team that created TheTorah.com and the supporters who sustain it. Scholarship, the Jewish world, and all of us readers are the lucky beneficiaries of their devotion and skill.
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Prof. Rabbi Tamara Cohn Eskenazi is The Effie Wise Ochs Professor Emerita of Biblical Literature and History at Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion, LA. She received her Ph.D. at the University of Denver and the Iliff School of Theology and her ordination from HUC-JIR. Eskenazi is co-author of the award-winning JPS Bible Commentary: Ruth and co-editor of the award-winning The Torah: A Women’s Commentary.